Takeaways From Cowboys Week 4 Loss to Rams
The first half went to script for the Dallas Cowboys as they took a 24-16 lead into halftime against the Los Angeles Rams. The tide turned in the second half, though, as the Cowboys offense stalled and the defense had trouble slowing down Todd Gurley and the Rams from stealing one in Dallas on Sunday, 35-30. It’s not quite time to hit the panic button just yet, but blowing a halftime lead at home is certainly not a good sign. This could be one of those games that get looked back on with regret should the Cowboys miss out winning the division or fail to reach the postseason. Let’s take a look at what went wrong in this game.
The Cowboys offense flips 180 degrees from first half to second half
As alluded to in the opening paragraph, this is the main reason Dallas let this game get away. Just a 3-3 score at the end of the first quarter, but the Cowboys were on the march. Dallas had the advantage in time of possession 10:37-4:23 and outgained the Rams offense 127-53. Then the first play of the second quarter resulted in a swing pass to Ezekiel Elliott, who dodged a tackler and dove for the pylon for a touchdown, giving the Cowboys the lead 10-3. At the end of the first half, the Cowboys dominated the stat sheet and held an eight-point lead. Dallas out rushed Los Angeles 133-48, outpassed the Rams 154-83 and won the time of possession battle 18:00-12:00.
Rams defensive coordinator and former Dallas head coach, Wade Phillips, made the necessary adjustments at halftime and the Cowboys couldn’t respond. The Rams forced the Cowboys into three consecutive punts, followed by a Dak Prescott interception in Dallas’ first four offensive possessions in the second half. All of which led to 16 points by Los Angeles to take the lead and not look back. Prescott, who was 11-of-15 for 155 yards and two scores in the first half, was just 3-of-9 for nine yards and a pick in the third quarter. The Cowboys also went away from Elliott, who only got only six carries for 24 yards in the second half.
Jaylon Smith Looks Overwhelmed As Starting Middle Linebacker
It’s not completely his fault or the fault of the coaching staff that Jaylon Smith has struggled on defense so far this season. The plan was never to force Smith into the fray this early and this often. Injuries to Anthony Hitchens, who hasn’t played this season and Sean Lee, who missed the Rams game with a bad hamstring, has put a lot of pressure on Smith. The loss of Lee was especially apparent in the second half when the Rams took the game over.
Todd Gurley gashed the Dallas defense for 121 yards on the ground, adding seven receptions (a career high) for 94 yards, including a back-breaking 53-yard catch and run for the go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter. It’s hard to put all of Dallas’ defensive woes completely on Smith, but LA made a concerted effort to go right at him at times. According to Bleacher Report’s Marcus Mosher and Pro Football Focus, Smith was targeted seven times in the passing game and yielded six catches for 68 yards. The Cowboys linebacking crew desperately needs Lee back and once Hitchens is healthy, Smith will see a much more part-time role.
Cowboys Lose The Special Teams Battle
The Rams special teams made a couple of huge plays and it made a difference in the outcome of the game. After the Cowboys dominated the first quarter and took the lead on the first play of the second, Los Angeles responded. Pharoh Cooper took the ensuing kickoff 66 yards down the far sideline, setting the Rams offense up on the Cowboys 35-yard line. The defense held the Rams to just four yards on the possession, but the good field position led to a field goal.
The turning point in the game came in the second quarter with the Rams leading 17-6. After the defense did its job again, frustrating Rams quarterback Jared Goff, Dallas was getting the ball back. Rookie punt returner, Ryan Switzer, foolishly attempted to field a punt in traffic, fumbled and the Rams recovered inside the Dallas-20. Goff threw a touchdown pass to Cooper Kupp shortly after and Rams cut the Cowboys lead to 17-13.
Lastly, Greg Zuerlein was a perfect 7-for-7 on field goals, a career best and accounted for 23 of the Rams 35 points in the victory.
Dak Prescott Isn’t Clicking With His Receivers
This concerns mainly Dez Bryant. After being held to two catches against Arizona, Bryant hauled in five in Week 4 totaling 98 yards, a respectable performance. Yet there were plays in the contest that Prescott and Bryant did not look in sync. Prescott looked deep in the end zone for Bryant that was nearly picked off at the end of the first quarter. On the first play of the third quarter, Bryant cut his route short and Prescott’s throw sailed deep and out of bounds. Later in the same drive, Bryant could not bring in a low throw that would have been a first down and instead the Cowboys were forced to punt. On the final drive of the game, with the Cowboys trailing by five, Prescott looked Bryant’s way twice, both resulting in incompletions.
Two of Prescott’s other go-to targets did not have good games in Week 4. Leading the team in receiving coming in, Jason Witten, only registered one catch for nine yards, which came on the final possession of the game. Even more concerning for the Cowboys offense is the dip in production from Cole Beasley so far this season. Prescott targeted Beasley six times resulting in just three catches for 17 yards against the Rams. Beasley had 75 receptions for 833 yards and five touchdowns in 2016. So far this season, Beasley’s best performance was four catches for 33 yards against Denver. His worst? Just one reception for four yards in Week 3 against Arizona. The Cowboys need to scheme Beasley better and create opportunities for him to be more productive.